couple holding hands at sunset

You know I am totally kidding.

The 20 years part is right on. The bliss… well, that part is just a fantasy; a social media hashtag that captions an image that leaves the rest of us feeling like there is something missing from our marriages.

This Valentine’s Day is special for us because my husband and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary. And as any couple knows, we have had our share of hard moments and happy ones — times when it would feel easier to be apart and days when we couldn’t live without each other. And with four kids in the mix ranging from 16 to 6, the truth is that there just isn’t a lot of time these days for each other.

But we can’t use that as an excuse. Because, let’s be real here, who wants to walk this life with a partner we feel constantly out of step with? So while we may not be the most romantic couple, we do hold hands (in the car when we head out to do errands) and we always kiss each other goodbye. And although we don’t post it on social media, we leave cards for each other when one of us is struggling or needing a reminder that they’re loved. Instead of getaway weekends, we take turns scheduling date nights and love watching a good Netflix series together at home. We grab a coffee together in between sports pick-ups and sometimes we just supermarket shop so we can have 30 minutes alone. Nothing groundbreaking here I know, but these small and simple (key for us!) moments become the glue that keeps us connected in this busy life of ours.

And just as much as we try to make these moments of togetherness count, we also encourage each other to step out. A weekend away with a best friend, a beer out with a brother or anything in fact, that helps remind us that we aren’t just a wife, husband, mom or dad. The missing each other part has become just important as the being together part.

Over the years we’ve learned a kind of dance that seems to work for us. And when we misstep, we realign. And we keep communicating. ALL. THE. TIME. And we try not to hold grudges because who has time for that? And yes, our kids hear us argue and sometimes see us leave the house for an hour or two because we just need a break. But I’m OK with that because they are learning that a realistic marriage requires attention, negotiations and a lot of resetting.

This year, we will probably go out for dinner like we usually do for our anniversary. And if I were to post a picture of us on our anniversary, I’m pretty sure my hashtag would read something like #20yearstogether. Understated but significant nonetheless.

– Andree Palmgren, LPC, has a private practice in Westport, CT and is a mom to four kids ages 16, 14, 11 and 6.



Parenting ADHD: The case of the guilt-ridden mom

mom holding upset boy

I’ve never thought of myself as the jealous type. I don’t think I’ve ever been driven by envy or jealousy. In all my 42 years, I’d never use either of those two words to describe myself, until recently.

You know that old joke, I was a great parent, until I had kids? That’s me.

Yesterday was hard. My son, who has ADHD, didn’t want to wake up for school and things escalated. Soon there was screaming (him), crying (both of us), and broken dishes all over the kitchen floor.

I never experienced anything like that before. Explosive tempers are new to me. This was a cold, hard slap in the face.

After we got everything together and made it to school, I sat in the parking lot for a while. Mostly, I was too upset to drive, but also, I replayed the morning’s events in my head. Would I have done anything differently? Replay. Replay. Replay.

No, I did it right. We’ve been going to therapy as a family and I stuck with the parenting recommendations. I kept my cool and didn’t raise my voice. I said, “I’m listening,” over and over. I gave reminders and chances; I set timers and established boundaries and expectations calmly. I deserved a medal for this skirmish.

Even though I did the best I could, these outbursts usher in guilt and envy for me because as I’m sitting there, watching the other parents bring their kids to school, I wish I was them. I wish it wasn’t so much of a relief for me to drop my child at school, that I didn’t relish the break so much. I wish picking him up from school didn’t hit me with trepidation. Can we play when we get home, or will there be meltdown after meltdown? Will we laugh at dinner, or cry?

I feel guilty because my son needs more attention than my daughter, but I want so badly to spend more time with her. Laughing, crafting and having fun. Instead, I find myself working so hard to switch my emotions to match the needs of each child, that flipping from funny mom to masking the frustration and anger is going to cause smoke to come out of my head.

I feel guilty because I get mad at him. I’m not the parent I want to be, and I blame his behavior. I love my kids with every ounce of my being, but this ADHD thing can suck it.

Parenting a kid with ADHD is hard and it affects the whole family. So many people think ADHD is a failure on mom and dad’s part to control their kid, provide discipline or even have a parental spine.

It’s not.

It’s learning how to parent a square-peg kid in a round-hole world. It’s knowing your kid’s brain is going a million miles an hour, and you just can’t keep up. It’s convincing yourself every day that you’re doing the best you can and tomorrow you’ll do better.

It’s not all bad, though. As fierce as my son is, he loves and protects just as ferociously. His creativity is a true joy to watch and his dimples still melt my heart. These are the things that keep me on track. These are the things that help me to soar.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Eight ideas for a new year family resolution

fireworks with "Happy New Year" text

Cropped image. Free images, Flickr. CC license.

Happy new year! The ball already dropped over Times Square, but it isn’t too late to make a new year resolution. How about making a resolution as a family? Make the most of the new year and time with your children by spending time together involved in activities designed to bring you closer as a family.

As a parent of grown children, I realize that time is elusive. Time gets away from us and before we know it, our children are grown. As an educator, I see the impact on children who have strong family ties and bonds. It’s not too late. Get the kids involved in the process by gathering your family together, deciding what is important to all of you, and making a resolution – one that everyone looks forward to doing. Decide how often you plan to work on the resolution. Is it daily, weekly or monthly? Mark it on the calendar so it becomes a priority and not forgotten in your busy, daily lives.

Here are some ideas to strengthen the family bonds and bring you all closer than you have ever been.

  • Eat dinner together. Research shows that eating meals together keeps the family connected. It is a time when children can develop language skills and table manners are learned and practiced. It is a good time to reflect about the day and to make plans for tomorrow. You can share hopes and dreams at this special time.
  • Be adventure seekers. There’s nothing that brings a family closer than an adventure experience as a family. Weekends, evenings, vacations and holidays are perfect times to seek adventure. Allow everyone to have a voice in what they would like to do. Select one suggestion and enjoy the day. It doesn’t need to be expensive or far from home; maybe you’ll spend the day at a museum, cider mill, hiking or bike riding on a new trail, or camping out in the family room or backyard.
  • Read together. Research shows that parent involvement in reading is the highest predictor of academic success in children. Deep bonds are formed when we read with our children. Parents frequently stop reading to their children once their child can read independently, but my advice is not to stop reading to your child. Instead, read together, make predictions and draw conclusions together. You can talk about your favorite parts and why characters behaved how they did. Unplug the TV and free yourselves from distractions while escaping to new places and meeting new people in books.
  • Start a family game night. Playing games as a family is an excellent way to stay connected as a family. Game night is one night where you won’t be searching for the kids because they’ll be chomping at the bit in anticipation to begin the evening. Each week, allow a different member of the family to select game for everyone to play. Children love both the traditional games that have been played for years, as well as the newer games that continue to show up in the stores. Games help develop thinking skills, language skills, sportsmanship and following directions. You can check out Playtivities for ideas, too.
  • Movie night. Grab your blanket and popcorn, pick a movie that everyone will enjoy, and sit close on the sofa and watch that movie together. Movie time is intended to be spent together and free of distractions, so turn off the cell phones and computers. When parts are funny, laugh out loud. Cry at the sad parts and save time at the end of the movie to talk about it.
  • Volunteer. What better way to learn that you can make a difference in another’s life than volunteering with your family? From a young age, children learn gratitude for what they have and empathy for others. Family traditions can be formed by making volunteering a priority. Check out this list of developmentally appropriate ways to get your family involved with helping others. PBS Kids also has tips for volunteering with kids.
  • Exercise together. Encouraging family fitness should become part of a family’s routine as it has both immediate and long-term benefits to a healthy lifestyle. When parents model a healthy lifestyle, our children are more likely to see the relevance and make it part of what they do in the future. Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics has increased the amount of time that children need to exercise. So, get off the couch and go for a walk together as a family, dance to the latest songs, go for a bike ride or simply do some of your favorite exercises.
  • Cook meals together. Looking for a way to get your children to expand the foods they eat while having fun and bonding as a family? Children take pride in creating a special dish and are more likely to try new foods when they are involved in the process. Try cooking together. Plan on one day a week to plan a meal, shop, prep, cook and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
    • Purchase a cookbook with pictures or borrow one from the library that has pictures of what the meal will look like when cooked.
    • Make a list of the needed ingredients and enjoy the family experience in the grocery store.
    • Everyone in the family can find something to do the prep for the meal. Remember to give the little ones jobs that are safe; no knives or heat sources nearby.
    • Cooking the meal can also be enjoyed by everyone in the family.
    • Finally, clean up should go quickly because, as the old saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”

Happy reading and happy new year!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Create a holiday book together

boys with gingerbread houses

It’s hard to believe that once again the holidays are sneaking up on us and will be knocking at our doors before we know it. Last year I posted a book list for children of different ages from newborn through 18 months. If you’re looking for children’s books to give as gifts, please take a look at that article.

Like many of you, my husband and I took pictures of the special times together with our children during the holidays. We took pictures of selecting our tree and decorating it, baking cookies, visiting Santa at the mall, and the list goes on and on, culminating with the arduous task of taking down our tree. We did little with those pictures until the following Christmas, when we would look back at them and reflect on the special times we had together and the people in our lives that made our holiday so special.

Then one year I decided to capture all of our special times together and make our own book. Each time we did something for the holidays with our children, I captured those special moments with a photograph. Throughout the holiday season, we collected several dozen pictures. When the holidays were over, we looked through our pictures and chose our favorites, then put text with the pictures. I used my kids’ words and ideas. We even added a page with our puppy’s paw print.

That book became our coffee table book that year and the children looked at every day. It also seemed to be the book that houseguests gravitated to; they commented on it and asked questions. It was truly our family’s favorite holiday book. It was the last decoration put into the holiday bins, so it was the first item pulled out each year.

In January after the holidays are over, we often find time to do things that we weren’t able to do in December. Preparing for Christmas and Hanukkah is time consuming, so January is the perfect time to reflect, look at photos and make a special book together.

So this holiday season, capture those memories and enjoy them for years to come. There are several companies and apps that can help you accomplish this, including Shutterfly and Snapfish. Your book can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like it to be.

Head over to Tom’s Guide for several ideas and updates on how to do this. The site also ranks the various photo book services. One service in particular, Mixbook, offers a step-by-step direction guide to first time book makers. However, look at the reviews on the website to find the place that works for you. Tom’s Guide also ranks the companies that are available for you to create a book that your children will love.

Happy reading!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

I’m the mom of the “bad” kid and I’m done being sorry

boy with slingshot

I’m writing this with tears rolling down my face.

You see, I’m the mom of “the bad kid.”

My beautiful, funny boy has a reputation, even in first grade, and my heart is breaking. This was all triggered for me today when I got a text from his teacher. At recess he kicked and spit in the face of another kid. Apparently, the other kid said, “I hope you die,” to my son, but still, the behavior is unacceptable.

Without making excuses for my kid’s behavior, I’d like to help the majority of you understand what it’s like being the parent of “that” kid. The “bad” one.

As parents, we are trying with every ounce of strength we have.

We have therapists for kids and families, pediatricians, evaluations, 504 plans, ADHD-combined diagnosis, and meetings with school counselors, principals and teachers. We have good behavior award plans, bad choices consequences and the will to help him succeed.

It is exhausting, physically and emotionally.

My kid isn’t bad, and I’m not a bad parent.

He’s not a rotten apple, a statistic, poor sport or bully. He has a mental illness and it’s called ADHD. We are working very hard to teach him the skills he needs in life to manage his emotions appropriately and make good choices. But, as a mother who loves her son with every fiber of my being, it shatters me to think someone doesn’t see the boy I know. The boy who protects the two-year-old next door from a stray cat. He unplugs the battery on our power wheels so that same little girl can sit in it without driving out of control. He’s the first one to defend his sister and can sense when someone is sad. He is beautiful.

ADHD sucks.

Yes, it’s a real thing and yes, I believe this diagnosis. ADHD isn’t just the inability to pay attention. It’s also the inability to think things through with no concept of cause/effect. Because my son has this, he’s more prone to losing friends, being labeled the class clown and getting in trouble. Later, in his teens, he’s more likely to make dangerous decisions. Kids with impulsive issues are more likely to run into the street without looking, jump off the garage roof because it looks fun, try drugs/alcohol and drive at reckless speeds.

I tell him his brain works differently than mine. My brain is a regular car and his is a race car. We are not the same and because I’m the adult, I need to meet him where he is, wherever he is, and sometimes, he’s hard to find.

It’s easy to judge.

I get it. I really do. If another child acted toward my kid the way my son does, my inner mama bear would come out, too. It’s only natural.

But understand this: My son will apologize for any of his inappropriate behavior and there will be consequences for bad choices. However, he will never apologize for being who he is or for his diagnosis and neither will I.

Please try to understand.

After-school activities are fun. So are birthday parties, soccer games, family events, holidays and class projects.

Parenting an ADHD kid requires adjustment though, which means I can’t always commit to activities, especially after school. My kid has been trying to keep it together all day and to ask him to hold on even longer is setting him up to fail. Kids with ADHD tend to have self-esteem issues because they’re constantly being corrected. If I can give him one less opportunity to goof, I’m doing that.

Also, think about how we parents feel. Every day, we get reports on how the being we love most in the world is messing up. Every day. We’re the parents on the playground who are always having a chat with the teacher, who are always listening to the list of complaints from another parent. It takes its toll.

I’m going to put this to you straight. Yes, it’s embarrassing. But it’s also frustrating, heart breaking and I’m sick of it. He’s my son. I’m going to will him to succeed and I will be his biggest fan along the way. He was born in my heart and he’ll always have a place there. And no matter what anyone says or thinks about him, I’m only ever going to see one thing: a diamond in the rough.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Adoption, luck and gratitude

woman with baby comforting a toddler girl

“Your children are so lucky!” “They must be so grateful.” These are comments adoptive parents often hear in regard to their children, but they reflect an adult perspective on a life event that is experienced completely differently by a child.

One thing non-adoptive parents often fail to understand is that adoption is a joy born from grief and loss. So when we are talking about luck and gratitude in the context of adoption, we need to clearly define what those terms really mean from the child’s perspective.

“Luck” is something many adopted children believe they do not have. Is it really “lucky” to be born into a situation where, for whatever reason, you cannot be raised with your birth family? Is it “lucky” to be taken, through no fault of your own, from the mother whose voice you heard and whose food you ate for months before you were born and perhaps for months or years after? Is it “lucky” when every family event features a comparison between your cousins’ and grandfather’s big ears, highlighting the physical traits you don’t have in common with your adopted family?

“Gratitude,” as any of us who parent teenagers know, is often in short supply with our children. To expect an adopted child to be any more grateful than a biological child is unrealistic and unfair. The adoptive parents presumably wanted to be parents and persisted in that quest until they were able to bring children into their family through adoption. Most adoptive parents believe that we are the grateful ones – grateful to our children for allowing us to love and parent them after a very difficult and painful separation that they didn’t ask for and were likely too young to understand.

It’s also important to remember that adoptive parents have often (not always, but often) come to adoption after losing their dream of having a biological child. They are also grieving the loss of the “idealized” family they had in their mind – the loss of the experience of pregnancy, perhaps multiple losses of children through miscarriage, the loss of that little kid with grandpa’s ears. The notions of “luck” and “gratitude” are often very different for adoptive parents as well as for their children.

In an ideal world, every child born is wanted and every birth mother is able and willing to raise a child born to her until that child is an adult. But we don’t live in an ideal world. And adoptive families don’t live in a morose and grief-filled world, but we do have to acknowledge the loss is there, to give our children the ability to express it when they need to, to understand that their grief is not a comment on our parenting but is simply a reality, a faint backdrop that becomes more pronounced from time to time.

Are we all lucky and grateful that somehow the universe brought us together and allowed us to become a family? Yes, of course, but it’s a very different kind of luck and gratitude, the kind that defies loss and grief and brings us together in joy.

– Kathy Henry is an adoptive parent to two teenage boys, makes a living as a marketing consultant and copywriter, and is a “professional” volunteer for several organizations, including the Beaumont Parenting Program. The pay is lousy but the rewards are great!

Building Halloween excitement before the big day

house decorated for Halloween

With so many things to love about fall, it is definitely my favorite season. Football, cooler temperatures, changing leaves, apple orchards, cider, donuts, sweaters, boots, and of course … Halloween. Halloween is such a fun and exciting holiday, especially for kids. As soon as the calendar flips to October at our house, the spooky Halloween buzz begins. While I wouldn’t say we go Halloween “crazy,” over the years I’ve enjoyed doing simple little things here and there to make the month fun, and to build the excitement and anticipation of the day.

Halloween décor

Adding indoor and outdoor decorations always makes things seem more festive. You don’t have to go “all out” all at once. I’ve collected things over the years, often on clearance after the holiday. We always add one new decoration each year, and the kids love getting them out and helping me decide where things should go.

jack-o-lantern clementinesFun food

Pinterest is full of silly Halloween snack and food ideas. I usually keep it simple and the kids still love it. I always try to pick up a box of Halloween cereal to surprise them with, and you can make an adorable pumpkin for the lunchbox with just a clementine and a Sharpie.

Visit a Halloween supply store

Whether you already have the costumes set or not, visiting a Halloween store is lots of fun. There’s so much to look at, masks to try on, and even some spooky animatronics that might make you jump. Keep toddlers close by as many of these are motion activated. Older kids may enjoy this activity more than the little ones.

Local free events

Many cities host trick-or-treating at the local businesses before Halloween, and many schools have trunk-or treat events where you decorate your car and kids go car-to-car collecting treats. It’s nice to get some additional opportunities to wear those costumes!

Enjoy Halloween books and movies

Now is a perfect time to dim the lights, pop some popcorn and watch a Halloween movie or read your favorite spooky books together. Lighting some candles or giving the kids small flashlights, always helps to set the scene and make it even more special. There are many age-appropriate choices; here are a few of our family favorites:

Send out Halloween greeting cards

Receiving unexpected fun mail is the best! There are so many adorable Halloween cards in the stores or you can make your own. Pick a few friends and family and send them a Halloween greeting. I promise they will be surprised! People often expect a birthday card, but when was the last time you got a Halloween card? We have a family friend that sends one to my kids every year and they always look forward to it. You can also throw in some spooky stickers to make it even more exciting.

Happy Halloween!

– Kelly Ryan, LMSW, Beaumont Parenting Program Director. She is also mom to Cassie and Connor, and coordinator of Halloween shenanigans at the House of Ryan.